Gold smugglers exploit Indian female pilgrims

Seized gold bars are kept on displayed by custom officers at the international airport in Kolkata in this Nov. 19, 2013 file photo.

Seized gold bars are kept on displayed by custom officers at the international airport in Kolkata in this Nov. 19, 2013 file photo.

Customs officials in India have arrested two Indian Umrah travel agents for smuggling in gold from the Kingdom to India through elderly female Umrah pilgrims.

Ten female pilgrims were initially arrested after being found to be carrying 5.3 kg worth of gold upon arrival in the form of 48 gold bangles and three gold bars.

The women had arrived in Hyderabad from Jeddah on a Saudia flight on Wednesday, according to media reports.

Officials said that the women passengers, mostly aged 60 to 80, were unaware of the plot and that they agreed to wear the gold bangles after being asked by the tour guides before boarding the flight, media reports said.

“The main kingpin — named Amin, who has since run away — and the arrested duo convinced the women that the gold was bought for relatives who were getting married in Hyderabad and that the gold would be allowed through at the airport if it was worn,” said a customs official. “This is why they agreed to wear it.”

Officials eventually arrested Mustafa and Rahman, Hyderabad-based tour guides who were accompanying the pilgrims, and let the women go.

The incident has triggered panic among pilgrims in the Kingdom.

“We received a phone call from our families telling us not to bring any gold back home,” Shazia Nayeem, an Indian pilgrim, told Arab News.

“Women pilgrims are afraid of even buying small quantities of gold now,” said Mohammed Masarath, an Indian volunteer in Makkah who assists pilgrims coming in from Hyderabad.

“This incident will hamper search inspections upon arrival in India,” he told Arab News.

He added that the gang had planned to collect the gold outside the airport, reports said. The duo had tried to evade customs officials at the time of the arrest.

The women, who were surprised to learn that they were part of a wider scheme to which they were oblivious, then told authorities that Mustafa was helping them as a guide during their pilgrimage on behalf of different travel agencies in Hyderabad.

Mustafa and Rehman told interrogators that the raw gold bangles were provided to them in Saudi Arabia by Amin and that they were supposed to hand them over to two men by the names of Irfan and Amer in Hyderabad, who had provided funding to purchase the yellow metal.

Intelligence information suggests that there were several gangs involved in exploiting Umrah pilgrims to smuggle in gold.

Customs officials have since been monitoring pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia and the agents accompanying them.

Over 15,000 pilgrims returned to Hyderabad from Saudi Arabia after performing Umrah during the last week of Ramadan.

 
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